National Plans and the Arctic Council
Arctic activities are not governed by a single legal instrument or governing body. Rather, the Arctic is governed by a patchwork of domestic legislation, international regulations, and, most importantly, international cooperation among the Arctic States. Eight nations – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States – have territories in the Arctic, and the domestic laws of these nations govern actions taken within their territorial waters.
The links below provide information on national and international efforts to govern the Arctic and its resources in a time of change.
“United States Arctic Region Policy.” National Security Presidential Directive and Homeland Security Presidential Directive. January 2009.
U.S. federal agencies have also developed independent plans for Arctic involvement, such as the U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap.
“Canada’s Northern Strategy: Our North, Our Heritage, Our Future.” Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 2009.
A scholarly assessment of the strategy is available here, by Geopolitics in the High North.
The Norwegian Government’s High North Strategy. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2006.
New Building Blocks in the North: The Next Step in the Government’s High North Strategy. Ministry of Foregin Affairs. 2009.
An English analysis of the strategy is available here, by Geopolitics in the High North.
Sweden’s Strategy for the Arctic Region. Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 2011.
Arctic governance is primarily executed through cooperative coalitions such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) and the Arctic Council. The BEAC is a coalition for regional cooperation around the Barents Sea and includes Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. The Arctic Council includes all eight Arctic States and is the main forum for Arctic cooperation.
The Council also permits outside observers at its meetings. Indigenous populations within the Arctic have permanent participant status. In 2009, China, the European Union, Italy, and South Korea sought permanent observer status but were denied, at least in part because the Council is divided on what the role of observer states should be. There is increasing recognition that actions taken in the Arctic may have far-reaching effects. Japan, China, and the European Union have significant economic investments in the Arctic Ocean—interests that are only growing due to increasing oil and gas exploration and the opening of northern sea routes.
However, Arctic States are reluctant to give other nations a voice in activities that occur in the Arctic. In 2008, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States issued the Illulisaat Declaration, which stated that no new “comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean” was necessary, and that the parties agreed to settle their disputes though cooperation and coordination.
The Ilulissat Declaration was announced on May 28, 2008 by the five coastal states of the Arctic Ocean (United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark), meeting at the political level during the Arctic Ocean Conference in Ilulissat, Greenland.
“Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic.” Arctic Council. 2011.
“International Governance and Regulation of the Marine Arctic.” Three reports prepared for the WWF Arctic Programme. 2010. The three reports are as follows: I. Overview and Gap Analysis, II. Options for Adressing Identified Gaps, and III. A Proposal for a Legally Binding Instrument.
The Arctic and International Environmental Agreements (table). Laura Meszaros. GRID-Arendal Polar Environment Times No.3 October 2003. p. 10.